Rhode Island's BIPOC Heritage

Resources on Rhode Island's BIPOC History and Heritage

With this page, the Newport Historical Society seeks to bring the history of people of Native American and African descent in Rhode Island into a more public light. In addition, it seeks to highlight the role that Newport citizens played in the history of the transatlantic slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the institution of slavery in the Americas.

The first European settlers on Aquidneck Island purchased the right to settle here from the native inhabitants in 1638, with Newport being founded the following year. Despite an agreement stipulating that those first residents would vacate the island, there is evidence in the historical record that that native peoples continued to actively engage – socially and economically – with the new European settlers. This digital exhibit highlights some of this evidence in the historical record, including documents and objects.

'The U.S. Slave Ship Ascension'

From 1777 to 1812, slave ships carried nearly 70,000 captives to the Río de la Plata; however, the main slave routes leading to Buenos Aires and Montevideo did not depart from Africa. In his peer-reviewed article 'The U.S. slave ship Ascension in the Río de la Plata: slave routes and circuits of silver in the late eighteenth-century Atlantic and beyond,' Alex Borucki, Director of the Latin American Studies Center at the University of California, Irvine, follows the voyage of the slave ship 'Ascension', the first of many U.S. vessels bringing slaves to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, in order to explain the formation of networks between U.S. and Rioplatense merchants and the centrality of silver as means of legal and illegal exchanges. This thesis is substantiated in part through research conducted at the Newport Historical Society. Click the button below to read the full article.
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Abolition & Anti-Abolition

A recent issue of the peer-reviewed publication 'Newport History: Journal of the Newport Historical Society' featured the article “Abolition and Anti-Abolition in Newport, Rhode Island, 1835-1866,” by Joey La Neve DeFrancesco. Click the link below to learn how a determined and cohesive African-American community overcame the maneuvers of the local powerful pro-slavery bloc, and succeeded in building institutions that had a profound impact on the lives of black Newporters in the nineteenth century.
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Precious Stones: The Carved Markers at God's Little Acre

This article in Preservation Magazine features Newport’s own God’s Little Acre, a portion of the Common Burying Ground devoted mostly to individuals of African descent, dating back to 1705. God’s Little Acre is perhaps the richest and most evocative space in the built environment of Newport: Preserving it may be one of the most important things any of us are doing now. For those who are interested specifically in the population of people of color in Newport, and for anyone interested, in a very personal sense, of who lived here and what their lives entailed, read more by clicking the button below.
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Touching Base: Race, Sport, and Community in Newport

Please enjoy free access to an article from 'Newport History', the flagship peer-reviewed publication of the Newport Historical Society! Across the country in June 2020, leaders tipped their caps to honor the creation of the Negro Leagues in 1920. "Touching Base: Race, Sport, and Community in Newport," originally published by Robert Cvornyek in the Winter 2016 issue of "Newport History," uncovers a wealth of information about local African-American teams and players, the integration of baseball in Newport and the visits to the city of elite Negro League teams. Access to our complete journal archive is included with NHS Membership.
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Chasing Phillis Wheatley

Uncovering other possibilities from the past. By Tara A. Bynum.

Phillis Wheatley was a celebrated poet and the first African-American author of a published book of poetry; she was also a formerly-enslaved woman living in 18th century Boston. In this essay, Tara A. Bynum, an assistant professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Iowa, writes about her experience of Phillis Wheatley’s humor, faith, and character through reading her personal correspondence.

African American Church Membership of Hotel Era Newport

This social history mapping project focuses on Newport’s mid-to-late nineteenth century African American community, using data compiled from from local church records, census documents, and maps from the NHS collection. Click the link below to explore the project.